BurnHIIT - Let's get in shape! | The definitive guide to reducing muscle soreness

The definitive guide to reducing muscle soreness

My body feels like it’s dying, is that normal?

Everyone has experienced muscle soreness at one point or another in their lives. It could be because you just started working out, you’re trying a new program or maybe you’ve been doing repetitive chores that involve heavy lifting/carrying. You went to sleep thinking of the great things that you’ve just accomplished forgetting that reality would hit you like a ton of brick when you wake up the next day. You know what’s even worse? Most of the muscular soreness can take up to 48h to fully appear so don’t think that it’s only going to get better from there. In some cases, it might take more than 4 days for the soreness to fully disappear.

That atrocity is called delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Wondering what happened to your poor muscles? Well, whenever you put them through an unusual exercise demand or eccentric muscular contractions (the act of lengthening the muscle while under resistance), the muscle tissue suffers microscopic tears that causes inflammation (Hoppeler, 1986; Suzuki et al., 2000).

Most of the muscular soreness can take up to 48h to fully appear

For some it’s just a normal part of working out while for others that don’t quite like physical activity, it might be a reason to never exercise again. Maybe it’s because they don’t quite enjoy the feeling of excruciating pain whenever they sit/lift their arms/laugh/breath… we’ll never know!

For those that can do with the pain, there is always the comforting though that the body will get used to these exercises and the soreness will be less and less present with each subsequent workout.

For everyone else that could do without excess soreness but do want the benefits of working out, there are many ways to reduce the painful feeling of soreness. Unfortunately, most of these techniques or supplements that are still the standard today have never actually been scientifically demonstrated to have a positive effect. Let’s take a look!

 

What’s the magic formula?

Well, beside sitting on your couch, there’s no magical way to completely prevent the soreness that follows a workout. Fortunately, science has led us to know more and more about natural ways to lessen that effect and make it more bearable. Before we go any further, I want to remind you that we are strictly talking about reducing soreness. These interventions might have other great benefits but they’re just not effective at reducing the painful effects of DOMS.

Before we start, I’ll give you a list of the different types of interventions (physiotherapeutic or supplemental) that we are going to describe. I want you to pick the ones that you think are effective at reducing muscle soreness and go back to it later on. You’re probably going to be surprised.

  • Cold water immersion
  • Hot water immersion
  • Contrast water therapy
  • Warming up before working out
  • Light exercises on the next day
  • Vitamin C
  • Creatine
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ex: ibuprofen)
  • Curcumin
  • Watermelon
  • Ginger
  • Massage
  • Stretching
  • Ultrasound
  • Electrical stimulation

 

Physical therapies

  • Let’s start with one of the biggest myths in the fitness community when it comes to preventing muscle soreness. Does stretching help reduce it? The answer is pretty clear, stretching doesn’t help AT ALL to prevent muscle soreness (Herbert et al., 2011). Not even if it’s done before or after your workout session. Even worse, it might even cause DOMS itself if you do it for too long (Smith et al., 1993).
  • Using either hot or cold water is always a toss up for a lot of people when it comes to knowing which one serves what purpose. Should you use cold water? How about hot water? Even better, alternating between cold and hot! It seems that only contrast water therapy (alternating between immersing yourself up to your neck in 15-degree Celsius water for 1 min then in 38-degree Celsius water for 1 min for 14 minutes) helps in reducing the feeling of soreness (Vaile et al., 2008). Nevertheless, cold water immersion (like contrast water therapy) still provides some great benefits when it comes to restoring strength and power (Vaile et al., 2007).
  • What about using light exercises to reduce the painful effects of DOMS? It seems that both warming up before doing the exercise that would create soreness (Nosaka et Clarkson, 1996) and doing light exercises the day after your grueling workout (Sayers et al., 2000) could help reduce the effects. What’s great about those two is that they can easily be added to your workout routine.
  • Using massages as a mean to reduce soreness is…pretty touchy! The scientific literature isn’t quite clear on whether it is effective or not. Some studies report positive effects while others report none at all (Weber et al., 1994; Cheung et al., 2003; Macinelli et al., 2005; Torres et al., 2012; Nelson, 2013). It seems that the time at which these massages are done along with the type of massages and the experience of the therapist could be the major factor (Cheung et al., 2003). I’d say this one is up to your personal preference. Who doesn’t like massages anyway?
  • Ultrasounds and electrical stimulation are commonly used in physical therapies. Unfortunately, none of these two has any positive effects on the symptoms of DOMS (Weber et al., 1994; Cheung et al., 2003)

 

Supplements and over-the-counter medicine

  • One very common way to treat pain and inflammation is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Wondering what that is? Try ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) for example. Logically, the anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain reducing) effects should definitely help manage muscle soreness right? Well, it seems that only a large dose of ibuprofen (1200 mg) could have benefits but it also comes with some side effects (Connolly et al., 2003; Krentz et al., 2008). Apparently, the large dose required to reduce soreness inhibits muscle building (hypertrophy) (Trappe et al., 2002). When the very use of weight lifting is negated by a drug that could help reduce soreness, it becomes quite counter-productive right? Keep in mind that even if your main goal would be to lose weight, having a little bit more muscle mass will definitely help you attain that goal.
  • Good old vitamin C has been shown to have positive effects on muscular soreness (Bryer and Goldfarb, 2006). More precisely, we’re talking about a dose of 3 grams each day. It might sound like a lot since the daily recommendation has been established at 75 to 90 mg a day for women and men respectively. Don’t worry thought, even larger amounts of vitamin C (up to 10 grams per day) were demonstrated to have no negative effects (Bendich and Langseth, 1995; Johnston, 1999).
  • Everyone that’s been in a gym long enough has heard about the effects of creatine. This powdered supplement has been used to increase strength and endurance for quite a while now and plenty of data shows that it works (Lawler et al., 2002). Apparently, it could also help you recover from DOMS (Santos et al., 2004). It does so by reducing the damage that’s done to the cells during a strenuous exercise. With all these benefits, it’s hard not to consider adding creatine to your supplement list.
  • One of the staples of Indian food, curcumin could also be a great remedy. Its high antioxidant content was associated with reducing the pain caused by DOMS (Drobnic et al., 2014). Surprisingly, it could also enhance the recovery of muscle performance following a strenuous workout (Nicol et al., 2015).
  • Another food source that could help reduce soreness is ginger. The daily supplementation with ginger helped reduce muscle pain from eccentric exercises by about 25% (Black et al., 2010). The only downside beside the taste is that its effects were only present in the first 24 hours following the workout session.
  • One of my favorite summer snacks, watermelon seems to have made the list of foods that could help recuperate from soreness. Studies have demonstrated that the active ingredient in watermelon (L-Citrulline) helped relieve DOMS by as much as half when compared to a placebo (Pérez-Guisado and Jakeman, 2010; Tarazona-Diaz et al., 2013). What’s even more surprising is that it also increased athletic performance during high-intensity anaerobic exercises with short rest times (sprinting, cycling at a very high pace). Guess what else? Citrulline is also sold in the form of powdered supplement (Citrulline Malate) but it seems that natural watermelon juice (500 ml) with a much lower concentration of L-Citrulline was as effective (Tarazona-Diaz et al., 2013).

 

The breakdown

For those that read through all this, were you surprised about some of the results? If you’re one of those that couldn’t wait to know the results and you skipped the details, here’s the breakdown of what works and what doesn’t and those that should be taken with care or that still need to be researched.

Effective:
  • Contrast water therapy
  • Warming up before working out
  • Light exercises on the next day
  • Vitamin C
  • Creatine
  • Curcumin
  • Ginger
  • Watermelon

 

Not effective:
  • Cold water immersion
  • Hot water immersion
  • Stretching
  • Ultrasound
  • Electrical stimulation

 

Still unclear or has negative side effects:
  • Massage
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ex: ibuprofen)

 

Conclusion

Now that you know a little bit more about how to recuperate from muscle soreness, there’s no reason not to exercise and reap the full benefits.

Good luck!

 

Show references

References

  1. Hoppeler, H. (1986). Exercise-induced ultrastructural changes in skeletal muscle.International journal of sports medicine7(04), 187-204.
  2. Suzuki, K., Yamada, M., Kurakake, S., Okamura, N., Yamaya, K., Liu, Q., … & Sugawara, K. (2000). Circulating cytokines and hormones with immunosuppressive but neutrophil-priming potentials rise after endurance exercise in humans.European journal of applied physiology81(4), 281-287.
  3. Herbert, R. D., de Noronha, M., & Kamper, S. J. (2011). Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise.The Cochrane Library.
  4. Smith, L. L., Brunetz, M. H., Chenier, T. C., McCammon, M. R., Houmard, J. A., Franklin, M. E., & Israel, R. G. (1993). The effects of static and ballistic stretching on delayed onset muscle soreness and creatine kinase.Research quarterly for exercise and sport64(1), 103-107.
  5. Vaile, J., Halson, S., Gill, N., & Dawson, B. (2008). Effect of hydrotherapy on the signs and symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness. European journal of applied physiology, 102(4), 447-455.
  6. Vaile, J. M., Gill, N. D., & Blazevich, A. J. (2007). The effect of contrast water therapy on symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 21(3), 697-702.
  7. Nosaka, K., & Clarkson, P. M. (1996). Changes in indicators of inflammation after eccentric exercise of the elbow flexors.Medicine and science in sports and exercise28(8), 953-961.
  8. Sayers, S. P., Clarkson, P. M., & Lee, J. O. O. H. Y. U. N. G. (2000). Activity and immobilization after eccentric exercise: I. Recovery of muscle function.Medicine and science in sports and exercise32(9), 1587-1592.
  9. Weber, M. D., Servedio, F. J., & Woodall, W. R. (1994). The effects of three modalities on delayed onset muscle soreness.Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy20(5), 236-242.
  10. Cheung, K., Hume, P. A., & Maxwell, L. (2003). Delayed onset muscle soreness.Sports Medicine33(2), 145-164.
  11. Mancinelli, C. A., Davis, D. S., Aboulhosn, L., Brady, M., Eisenhofer, J., & Foutty, S. (2006). The effects of massage on delayed onset muscle soreness and physical performance in female collegiate athletes.Physical Therapy in Sport7(1), 5-13.
  12. Torres, R., Ribeiro, F., Duarte, J. A., & Cabri, J. M. (2012). Evidence of the physiotherapeutic interventions used currently after exercise-induced muscle damage: systematic review and meta-analysis.Physical Therapy in Sport,13(2), 101-114.
  13.  Nelson, N. (2013). Delayed onset muscle soreness: is massage effective?.Journal of bodywork and movement therapies,17(4), 475-482.
  14.  Connolly, D. A., Sayers, S. E., & McHugh, M. P. (2003). Treatment and prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 17(1), 197-208.
  15.  Krentz, J. R., Quest, B., Farthing, J. P., Quest, D. W., & Chilibeck, P. D. (2008). The effects of ibuprofen on muscle hypertrophy, strength, and soreness during resistance training. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 33(3), 470-475.
  16.  Trappe, T. A., White, F., Lambert, C. P., Cesar, D., Hellerstein, M., & Evans, W. J. (2002). Effect of ibuprofen and acetaminophen on postexercise muscle protein synthesis.American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism282(3), E551-E556.
  17.  Bryer, S. C., & Goldfarb, A. H. (2006). Effect of high dose vitamin C supplementation on muscle soreness, damage, function, and oxidative stress to eccentric exercise.International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism16(3), 270.
  18.  Bendich, A., & Langseth, L. (1995). The health effects of vitamin C supplementation: a review.Journal of the American College of Nutrition,14(2), 124-136.
  19.  Johnston, C. S. (1999). Biomarkers for establishing a tolerable upper intake level for vitamin C.Nutrition reviews57(3), 71-77.
  20.  Lawler, J. M., Barnes, W. S., Wu, G., Song, W., & Demaree, S. (2002). Direct antioxidant properties of creatine.Biochemical and biophysical research communications290(1), 47-52.
  21.  Santos, R. V. T., Bassit, R. A., Caperuto, E. C., & Rosa, L. C. (2004). The effect of creatine supplementation upon inflammatory and muscle soreness markers after a 30km race.Life sciences75(16), 1917-1924.
  22.  Drobnic, F., Riera, J., Appendino, G., Togni, S., Franceschi, F., Valle, X., … & Tur, J. (2014). Reduction of delayed onset muscle soreness by a novel curcumin delivery system (Meriva®): a randomised, placebo-controlled trial.Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition,11(1), 1.
  23.  Nicol, L. M., Rowlands, D. S., Fazakerly, R., & Kellett, J. (2015). Curcumin supplementation likely attenuates delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).European journal of applied physiology,115(8), 1769-1777.
  24.  Black, C. D., Herring, M. P., Hurley, D. J., & O’Connor, P. J. (2010). Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces muscle pain caused by eccentric exercise.The Journal of Pain11(9), 894-903.
  25.  Pérez-Guisado, J., & Jakeman, P. M. (2010). Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness.The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research24(5), 1215-1222.
  26.  Tarazona-Díaz, M. P., Alacid, F., Carrasco, M., Martínez, I., & Aguayo, E. (2013). Watermelon juice: potential functional drink for sore muscle relief in athletes.Journal of agricultural and food chemistry61(31), 7522-7528.
Raphael Hart
raphael@bouge.fitness

M.Sc. Kinesiology and Ph.D student in biological sciences at Université du Québec à Montréal.

No Comments

Post A Comment